Saturday, June 02, 2007

Infighting splits US war protesters

Infighting splits US war protesters World The Observer: "The Democrats' retreat on Iraq sparked a rethink of anti-Bush strategy, reports Joanna Walters "

Sunday June 3, 2007The Observer

The American peace movement has been plunged into disarray after failing to persuade the new-look Congress to stop the war, amid mounting warnings of a summer bloodbath in Iraq.

When its most high-profile controversial figurehead - bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan - quit the anti-war campaign and the Democratic party in disgust last week, her resignation statement revealed the deep divisions. Now opponents of President Bush are warning that the anti-war movement and the Democrats have little time to salvage their credibility if they want to end the war - and take the credit for it.

Sheehan shot to fame when she camped outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005 and refused to move until he met her to explain the 'noble cause' for which her son Casey had died in Iraq the previous year. Bush never did.

But 'betrayal' was the only word used to describe the Democrats last week by the pressure group Military Families Speak Out, after the Democrats 'caved in' by agreeing to continue funding Iraq without setting a withdrawal deadline.

Even as Sheehan's decision to withdraw after three years' campaigning cast a spotlight on the state of the US peace movement, it was eclipsed by her announcement that 'Camp Casey' - the chunk of land she bought to hold protests outside Bush's ranch - was up for sale.

Despite her repeated declarations that she would use it until Bush resigned or was impeached, reports emerged that she plans to sell it on eBay.

Without missing a beat, the conservative group Move America Forward announced it would buy Camp Casey and erect a war memorial there, leading Sheehan's sister, DeDe Miller, to declare it would be 'a cold day in hell' before they would get their hands on it.

'It's going to be a bloodbath this summer,' said Celeste Zappala of Gold Star Families - the campaign group of relatives who have lost loved ones in Iraq and want the troops withdrawn now - after claims by senior US generals that the violence in Iraq would hit a new peak this summer. 'I think campaigners are feeling disheartened at the moment, but some of us cannot walk away,' she added in an apparent dig at Sheehan.

But while some believe that Sheehan may return to the peace movement after a spell out of the limelight, she seems unlikely to kiss and make up with the Democrats - or one of their most famous support groups, MoveOn.org - which has become the other high-profile face of the US anti-war movement.

She called MoveOn's reputation as a big player in the anti-war left 'hilarious', accusing it of being so tied in to the Democrats and their electoral cause that they clammed up when the party failed to protest about the war.

Military Families Speak Out admitted that the anti-war movement was 'fragmenting' - a view endorsed by the Crawford Peace House, a campaign based near Bush's ranch, which is calling for the anti-war movement to 'regroup'.

'The peace movement is in disarray. It's run by the Democrats and they are scrambling to try to show that they are anti-war, but no one is fooled any more, and Cindy Sheehan just added an exclamation mark to that,' said John Walsh, a commentator for the leftwing online newsletter Counterpunch
Lawrence Wittner, professor of history at the State University of New York, agrees: 'The movement needs a powerful, national peace organisation, with a mass membership,' he added. 'Only then will it impress the politicians.' Others believe the only way for the peace movement to make a difference now is for its various groups formally to break with the political parties with which they are aligned - in other words, the Democrats. 'We need to make the Democrats really feel the shame of their capitulation. If they get it, maybe they can retrieve some respect from the people who actually voted them into power,' said Gary Leupp, professor of history at Tufts University.

Some draw consolation from history. Among them is Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, who points to the anti-war movement's fight during the Vietnam war and supports Democratic tactics. 'Vietman was not ended with one vote. It took five votes to withdraw funding and, during that time, [President Lyndon] Johnson began bringing the troops out. I think the Democrats are using the politics of reality,' she said.

Le Blanc promised a 'hot and heavy' summer for campaigners to persuade lukewarm Democrats that their careers are on the line. 'We are not giving up,' she insisted.

[bth: I personally think Cindy Sheehan's statement last Monday is extremley important. It is the point where the 'peace movement' such as it is, splits from the Democratic Party. The party thinks its got the 08 election in the bag, but there is a very real possibility of a splinter group or party emerging such as Ralph Nader did in 2008 to throw the 2008 election back to the Republicans.]

Moqtada al-Sadr: The man America has in its sights

Moqtada al-Sadr: The man America has in its sights - Independent Online Edition > World Politics: "The US wants to talk to Moqtada al-Sadr. He thinks they want to assassinate him. In this rare interview in Kufa, Iraq, the Shia cleric tells Nizar Latif why "

Published: 03 June 2007

Moqtada al-Sadr, the man Washington blames for its failure to gain control in Iraq, has rejected a call to open direct talks with the US military and has accused the Americans of plotting to assassinate him.

The Shia cleric told The Independent on Sunday in an exclusive interview: "The Americans have tried to kill me in the past, but have failed... It is certain that the Americans still want me dead and are still trying to assassinate me.

"I am an Iraqi, I am a Muslim, I am free and I reject all forms of occupation. I want to help the Iraqi people. This is everything the Americans hate."

Mr Sadr, revered by millions of Iraqi Shias, spoke after leading Friday prayers in the Grand Mosque at Kufa, just over 100 miles south of Baghdad. It is one of the four Iraqi cities considered holy in Shia Islam. He always wears a black turban, the traditional symbol of a Shia cleric who can trace his ancestry to the Prophet Mohamed. But for the second time in two weeks, he also wore a white shroud - a symbol of his willingness to be martyred, and his belief that death is close at hand.

The young cleric inherited the aura of his father, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr, who was murdered by Saddam Hussein's regime. He has been a thorn in the side of the Americans since the invasion, with his Mahdi Army - the military wing of Iraq's largest Arab grassroots political movement - having clashed with US and British forces. The movement has been accused of kidnapping five Britons in Baghdad last week, possibly in retaliation for the death of a senior Mahdi commander in Basra at the hands of British forces, but the Sadrists deny involvement.

Mr Sadr resurfaced recently after disappearing - possibly over the border to Iran - when the US began its security "surge" in Baghdad early this year. He ordered his fighters in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold in the capital, not to resist the operation. Last week the US military said it wanted to open direct, peaceful talks with him, but the cleric told the IoS he rejected the idea.

"There is nothing to talk about," he said angrily. "The Americans are occupiers and thieves, and they must set a timetable to leave this country. We must know that they are leaving, and we must know when." He has reason to be wary of US offers to negotiate. As revealed by The Independent last month, respected Iraqi political figures believe the US army tried to kill or capture Mr Sadr after luring him to peace talks in Najaf in 2004.

"We are fighting the enemy that is greater in strength, but we are in the right," he said. "Even if that means our deaths, we will not stand idly by and suffer from this occupation. Islam exhorts us to die with dignity rather than live in shame."

Mr Sadr did not say how he thought the US planned to kill him. But it is clear his decision to stay out of the public eye for months was prompted by safety fears, amid a crackdown on the Mahdi Army that has seen key figures arrested and killed.

With US, British and Iraqi government forces still conducting operations against the Sadr movement and its army, the cleric warned he was prepared to launch another armed uprising. "The occupiers have tried to provoke us, but I ordered unarmed resistance for the sake of the people," he said. "We have been patient, exercising statesmanship, but if the occupation and oppression continues, we will fight." The Mahdi Army has been relatively quiet, but it is becoming more active in Baghdad, responding to a series of devastating suicide bombings by Sunni extremists.

Mr Sadr, whose rise to become one of the most influential figures in Iraq coincided with the US overthrow of Saddam, said his movement sought to follow the example of Hizbollah, the Shia armed resistance movement in Lebanon. "Hizbollah and the Mahdi Army are two sides of the same coin," he said. "We are together in the same trench against the forces of evil."

He also spoke about a spate of recent fighting between his followers and members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the other major Shia party which has its own armed Badr faction. The clashes sparked fears that the power struggle among Shias will explode into full conflict.

"What happened with the Badr organisation and the Mahdi Army in many parts of Iraq is the result of a sad misunderstanding," he said. "We have held discussions to stop this being repeated."

Mr Sadr has always been a fervent nationalist, and has recently held talks with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province who have taken up arms against al-Qa'ida-affiliated extremists, while still opposing the US-led occupation. Despite his calls for cross-sectarian unity in Iraq, the Mahdi Army is widely accused of operating death squads responsible for the deaths and ethnic cleansing of thousands of Sunnis and Iraqi Christians.

Mr Sadr also insisted he opposed Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs, referring to tentative talks between the US and Iran. "We reject such interference," he said. "Iraq is a matter for the Iraqis."
Additional reporting by Phil Sands in Damascus

[bth: I can point to men buried in Section 60 killed by this bastard. This dirt bag is hardly worth the bullet]

Iraq-Style Bomb Found In Afghanistan

Iraq-Style Bomb Found In Afghanistan, Military Officials Suspect The Explosive May Have Come From Iran, Pakistan Or Iraq - CBS News: "(AP) A powerful and sophisticated type of roadside bomb prevalent in Iraq but not seen before in Afghanistan was discovered near a university in Kabul last week, prompting a rare countrywide warning to NATO and Afghan troops. "

The bomb, known as an EFP, or explosively formed projectile, was notable for its level of sophistication and similarity to those seen in Iraq, said Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. NATO officials say they don't know where the bomb came from.

“The kind that we're talking about is machined. It has to be fabricated to pretty certain specifications ... by somebody who knows what he's doing,” Thomas said. “The next question is how similar is it to those made in Iraq, and the answer is considerably similar.”

Thomas said there was no evidence to suspect a certain manufacturer, nation or even region as the source. He said Iran or al Qaeda elements in Iraq or Pakistan were all possibilities. NATO sent out a warning to international and Afghan troops to watch out for EFPs.

The warning, shown to The Associated Press by a security official who asked not to be named because it is an internal document, said the sophisticated bomb was found May 26 near a Kabul university.

It said lesser-quality EFPs were found in Herat, near the Iran border, in April. Thomas confirmed that NATO issued the warning, saying the rare Afghanistan-wide message showed it was concerned.

“The guys who are working counter-IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are professionally alarmed in the sense they were hoping they wouldn't see these” in Afghanistan, Thomas said.

“I don't think people are completely overwhelmed by the idea, because we knew it was a pretty good possibility.”

Military officials and analysts say Taliban militants have long copied Iraqi insurgents' tactics, but suicide and roadside bombs here have never been anywhere near as deadly or sophisticated as those in Iraq, where armor-piercing EFPs have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

U.S. military officials have been saying for months that Iran, a Shiite country, has been supplying EFPs to Shiite militias in Iraq, despite strong denials by Tehran. U.S. officials say EFPs also have been found in Sunni weapons caches in Iraq.

The Taliban are primarily Sunni. Small arms weapons with Iranian markings have been discovered in Afghanistan over the last few months, though NATO's top commander, Gen. Dan McNeill, has said there's no proof of direct Iranian involvement in their presence here, Thomas said.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in April that U.S. forces had intercepted Iranian-made mortars and explosives in Afghanistan, although it was not clear they were shipped directly from Iran. Britain's Ministry of Defense has also said it was working with the international community to “step up pressure on Iran ... over its role in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“We know about illegal movements of munitions across the border from Iran to Afghanistan, destined for the Taliban,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday. “We are concerned that some of these munitions are of Iranian origin.”

The ministry refused to give any details about the number or type of weapons. A NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said there was “real concern” about the possibility of advanced weapons moving over the Afghan-Iranian border — saying it “would change the game quite significantly” here because of the higher level of technology.

Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad R. Bahrami, said he “strongly denies” any allegations that Tehran is helping arm the Taliban. B

ahrami told the AP on Thursday that Iran wants stability in Afghanistan, saying it benefits his country's security. He also said Iran hasn't forgotten when the Taliban killed 11 Iranians in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, suggesting Iran has no reason to help the hardline militia.

“We strongly deny the rumors that Iran is supporting opposition groups to the government of Afghanistan,” he said. Bahrami said Iran believes “some of the countries that like to increase these kinds of rumors want to find some kind of cause for their unsuccessful activities.”

He did not name any nation directly, but said one had supported a failed peace agreement in Musa Qala in Helmand province between local elders and Taliban fighters, a clear reference to Britain.

Taliban fighters stayed out of the town for several months after the agreement last fall, but broke the pact in February and have occupied the town since.

He also mentioned the increase in drugs in southern Afghanistan. Opium poppy cultivation is booming in Helmand province, where British forces are located.

The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. David Accetta, said Iranian weapons are likely in the country as a result of decades of war in the region, and that he hadn't seen any evidence Iran was sending in new weapons.

“There's a lot of Russian weapons here, but that doesn't mean Russia is flying them in packing crates,” he said.

[bth: this is obviously not good. One wonders why and EFP is being used as most targets don't require it. Also based on the description, it must have been seized before it was activated. There will be forensic evidence concering the machining of the concave copper plate that will provide some useful information about its origin.]

Britons seized in Baghdad ‘broke basic security rules’

Britons seized in Baghdad ‘broke basic security rules’-News-World-Iraq-TimesOnline: "The four British security men kidnapped with their client in Baghdad this week may have committed a series of blunders leading to their capture. "

Security sources said that the team protecting a British IT expert broke several basic rules.

It is alleged that they failed to vary their routine, visiting the same place every day for nearly three weeks; went to a potentially dangerous building; did not have enough guards to protect their client; and did not post a guard outside to raise the alarm in case of an attack. ...

[bth: how could 19 vehicles mount this raid against a ministry building loaded with people with cell phones in a city we are supposedly 'surged' in?]

60 Dead After Boat Full of Taliban Militants Sinks in Southern Afghanistan - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - 60 Dead After Boat Full of Taliban Militants Sinks in Southern Afghanistan - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "KABUL, Afghanistan — A boat crossing a river in Afghanistan's most dangerous province sank on Saturday, and at least 60 people were killed, including Taliban militants, the Defense Ministry said."...

[bth: how would we know they were Taliban militants?]
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Anything They Say: Gas pains in pipelineistan*

Anything They Say: Gas pains in pipelineistan*: "As Chomsky is fond of saying, if you really want to know what is going on, read the business news. "It doesn't fart around with the platitudinous rhetoric about freedom and democracy that routinely spills out of the mouths of venal politicians.

Which is why news that Russia is once again aiming to turf out western oil companies currently involved in oil and gas projects within Russia's vast Siberian wilderness, where the largest natural gas deposits in the world are found, is of significant note and further establishes the ongoing narrative of pipelines and imperial missions.

It was only last fall that Russian authorities claimed that Royal Dutch Shell was violating environmental regulations and forced the company to sell off controlling interest in the Sakhalin II project, routinely described as "the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas development," which was promptly bought up by Russia's state-owned petroleum company Gazprom.

While nothing changed "on the ground," the new ownership resulted in a new-found compliance with environmental laws, just as Vladimir Putin had predicted. Prior to this petroleum putsch, Putin's regime had essentially appropriated the Yukos oil company through what many believe was a front company for Gazprom.

Yukos had been owned by vocal critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who now languishes in a Russian prison on largely trumped up charges, though the dispatch of the inconvenient Khodorkovsky appears to have been a mere side benefit to the larger agenda of consolidating oil and gas production under the Gazprom umbrella.

And now the Russian government is about to relieve British BP of its controlling interest in the Kovykta gas field, which is (was) BP's largest natural gas project in Russia and which will also be acquired by Gazprom. Located near Lake Baikal, the Kovykta gas field is conveniently near to new and expanding Asian energy markets, where economic growth is now thought to be hobbled by unmet energy demands. Furthermore, ExxonMobile is also under pressure from "environmental regulators" and this may too lead to Gazprom acquiring majority interest in the Sakhalin Island project.

All of this movement on the part of Putin's government more than indicates a drive to monopolize the gas market throughout Asia and Europe.

Putin has leveraged Russia's already strong control of gas supplies to send messages to erstwhile Soviet block countries for their complicity with western interests such as NATO. Attentions were first pricked a few months ago when Iran proposed the idea of a gas cartel to the Kremlin.

Putin appeared to embrace the idea. So much so, that now Russia has recently signed gas agreements with the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which also appears to seriously undermine US plans for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline (the so-called TAP or TAPI with Indian involvement).

Of course, with Afghanistan failing to be drawn to heal by US and NATO forces, plans for the TAPI, while officially readying for "accelerated" construction, are in fact stalled under the extent mayhem.

With Putin's overbearing direction, the Kremlin continues to assert control over Eurasia's energy supplies.

The new and emerging markets of China, India and Southeast Asia will only grow more dependent on the supplies that we can see are now being planned as a cartel wherein Iran -- if it is not bombed "back to the stone age" -- and Moscow are destined to become the main players in the world's future energy markets.

It is with this view in mind that continued US military posturing in the regions of both the Middle East and Europe can have no good or useful outcome. Both Tehran and Moscow know they've got a lock on the vast new energy markets throughout Eurasia and there is little the US can do about it other than threaten military action.

Ultimately, this is why we have seen Moscow and Tehran in a firm embrace, with China indicating that it, too, will not find further US military aggression in the Middle East at all tolerable.

None of this is meant to indicate that the volatile admixture of Muscovite monopolistic authoritarianism and Iranian mullahocracy is going to have beneficent results for world markets.

At this point, no ones knows what such a blend might bring.

But while it is almost certainly unlikely under this sabre-rattling administration, the US needs to recognize that there are ways that such collusion might have been addressed, and could be addressed now, to the benefit of all.

In fact, the current collaboration between Moscow and Tehran (and China) might have never arisen had it not been for the utterly misguided fantasies of those who imagined the US as the agent of a "benevolent global hegemony," especially when that "benevolence" is to be delivered by 500 lb bombs, white phosphorous and 20mm cannon rounds.*

Thanks to Pepe Escobar for the term, pipelineistan, from his book, Globalistan, How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War. Nimble Press, LLC, 2006.
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U.S. Military Launches Strike Against Militant Base in Somalia

FOXNews.com - U.S. Military Launches Strike Against Militant Base in Somalia - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least one U.S. warship bombarded a remote, mountainous village in Somalia where Islamic militants had set up a base, officials in the northern region of Puntland said Saturday."

The attack from a U.S. destroyer took place late Friday, said Muse Gelle, the regional governor. The extremists had arrived Wednesday by speedboat at the port town of Bargal.

Gelle said the area is a dense thicket, making it difficult for security forces from the semiautonomous republic of Puntland to intervene on its own.

A local radio station quoted Puntland's leader, Ade Muse, as saying that his forces had battled with the extremists for hours before the U.S. ships arrived and used their cannons. Muse said five of his troops were wounded, but that he had no information about casualties among the extremists.

A task force of coalition ships, called CTF-150, is permanently based in the northern Indian Ocean and patrols the Somali coast in hopes of intercepting international terrorists. U.S. destroyers are normally assigned to the task force and patrol in pairs.

CNN International, quoting a Pentagon official, also reported the U.S. warship's involvement. A Pentagon spokesman told The Associated Press he had no information about the incident.

This is a global war on terror and the U.S. remains committed to reducing terrorist capabilities when and where we find them," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"We recognize the importance of working closely with allies to seek out, identify, locate, capture, and if necessary, kill terrorists and those who would provide them safe haven," Whitman said. "The very nature of some of our operations, as well as the success of those operations is often predicated on our ability to work quietly with our partners and allies."

Puntland's minister of information, Mohamed Abdulrahman Banga, told the AP that the extremists arrived heavily armed in two fishing boats from southern Somalia, which they controlled for six months last year before being routed by Ethiopian troops sent to prop up a faltering Somali government.

"They had their own small boats and guns. We do not know exactly where they came from — maybe from Ras Kamboni, where they were cornered in January," he said.

Local fishermen, contacted by telephone, said about a dozen fighters arrived Wednesday, but Puntland officials said the number could be as high as 35.

The United States has repeatedly accused Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts of harboring international terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. sent a small number of special operations troops with the Ethiopian forces that drove the Islamic forces into hiding. U.S. warplanes have carried out at least two airstrikes in an attempt to kill suspected Al Qaeda members, Pentagon officials have said.
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The northern bother - Haaretz - Israel News

The northern bother - Haaretz - Israel News: "
1. Syria "

The main reason why the Israel Defense Forces is currently not recommending a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip is not talked about much publicly: It is the apprehension that this summer Israel is liable to be engaged in a different war - against Syria. In light of this more threatening scenario, and knowing that it will be difficult to achieve concrete results in Gaza without a large and lengthy concentration of forces and resources, the IDF is currently inclined to go with a policy of "more of the same" in the Strip. Despite the ongoing rocket fire directed at Sderot, the General Staff continues to object to an extensive operation at this time.

The intelligence assessments in the northern sector don't appear to have changed radically. As far as is known, the Israeli intelligence community does not have information pointing to clear intentions on the part of Syrian President Bashar Assad to launch a war. However, there are intelligence reports about the preparations Syria is making for such a possibility: training, exercises, major arms deals. Intelligence personnel are finding it difficult to formulate a bottom line: whether Assad truly intends to go to war or whether he is merely taking measures to be on the safe side, while seeking to exert pressure on Israel to renew peace negotiations.

For the IDF, the question of intentions is secondary. The army has to be ready for a Syrian attack, and a preoccupation with the southern sector will detract from the operational tension in the North. On the other hand, the General Staff remembers the affair of Yehuda Gil, the Mossad espionage agency man who inflated the warnings about Syria's intentions in the summer of 1996 and almost precipitated a war.

Mistaken interpretation of the adversary's intentions is liable to spark a flare-up. This is known as the "miscalculation" scenario - an English word that is used in General Staff discussions. A variation on this scenario was tested last month, in the major exercise code-named "Avnei Esh 10." Even though the scenario tested also deals with escalation on other fronts, including the Palestinian, it was evident to the participating officers that the territories, including Gaza, are currently a secondary front.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is bothered mainly by the northern sector. The GOC Central Command, Yair Naveh (who will be succeeded next week by Major General Gadi Shamni), has been telling his staff the same thing for some time. Central Command is at present a secondary sector, and its main task is not to interfere with entanglements that are liable to develop in other sectors.

2. Second level

In the "stages plan" the chief of staff presented to the security cabinet concerning the possibilities for action in Gaza, the IDF is still stuck on the second stage, on a scale of one to five. Ground activity is confined to the open areas close to the fence, although the forces have now advanced slightly further.

This week a special unit operated east of Khan Yunis, two kilometers west of the security fence. The level of authorization required for some of the actions has been lowered from the General Staff to Southern Command and the Gaza Division.

Southern Command is increasingly convinced that sending a large ground force into the built-up areas of Gaza will be far more complicated this time round than in similar IDF operations in the past, such as the one that followed the abduction of Gilad Shalit last June. The defensive infrastructure Hamas has built is based on the lessons drawn by Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

This week senior officers likened the breaching of the first line of buildings in Gaza to that of breaking through the "shredder" - the strip Hezbollah created on the northern border, which is but a few kilometers wide. It took the IDF nearly two weeks to breach it, at the price of no few casualties.

With the war in Gaza being conducted on a low level of intensity, the IDF is meanwhile satisfactorily noting an improvement of performance in other spheres. The Home Front Command is evincing great energy in Sderot. Its commander, Yitzhak Gershon, who was badly burned in the state comptroller's report, is determined to show that the lesson of Lebanon has been learned.

To no small degree, the IDF this week captured a town - except that it was Sderot, not Beit Hanun. At the same time, Southern Command is receiving various executive powers from the General Staff. During the Second Lebanon War, Major General Udi Adam, then the GOC Northern Command, could only dream of the independence the GOC Southern Command, Yoav Galant, now enjoys. Most activity in the Gaza Strip is now being coordinated by Southern Command, as Galant had urged for more than a year.

This framework includes the increased use of special forces, while the ground activity remains largely defensive. The forces are engaged in averting threats, above all another abduction via a tunnel.

The presence of Givati Brigade infantry forces and armored units in the Gaza Strip, close to the fence, is intended to hamper the launching of Qassam rockets. In particular these troops are there to prevent Hamas from establishing a firing range drawing closer to Ashkelon. Another lesson learned from earlier rounds of fighting is that even though the number of Qassams fired this week declined by about two-thirds (from a peak of more than 30 a day to an average of 10), the army is not attributing this to its activity, most certainly not in public.

It's possible that the decrease can be explained in part by Hamas' desire to retain ammunition for the future. The brunt of the offensive effort is being borne by the air force. Within two weeks about 50 permanent targets were attacked (including headquarters, training camps and storage depots) as well as some 20 squads that operated launchers and rockets. About 60 terrorists were killed, most of them affiliated with Hamas and the others loyal to Islamic Jihad. During this period approximately 300 Qassams were fired, 50 of which fell inside the Gaza Strip. What is now going on in Gaza cannot really be called an "operation." It is ongoing activity against terrorism, which can produce only limited results. If Hamas were to cease firing rockets completely, the army might show restraint in air attacks, but would not halt the pressure on Hamas entirely.

Even if there is an escalation, the IDF will object to a limited move, which it views as the worst of all possible worlds, for example sending a brigade or two into the Strip for two or three weeks, having it do a lot of killing but achieve almost no results. Israeli deterrence will only suffer from that. The army maintains that a large-scale, prolonged operation will be needed in the future, even though it is clear that this will entail a steep price.

In the Gaza Strip, in contrast to southern Lebanon, the civilian population has nowhere to flee to. Every ground battle will take place in a densely populated civilian setting and will bring the army up against a huge number of armed individuals - more than 50,000.

These, then, are the current rules of the game in Gaza. Israel is not trying to create a system for a complete end to the confrontation. So far Hamas, some of whose senior members have gone into hiding, does not have a good enough reason to stop the shelling. The balance is not tilted because Israel is not registering a genuine military achievement.

And in the meantime, Israel is losing a city: Sderot is not returning to normal routine, not even in the minimal sense, to calmer periods of grace it has enjoyed over the past six years.

3. Come down from the roofs

On Monday of this week, Gaza was prepared for another round of fighting between Fatah and Hamas. A seemingly negligible incident was about to put an end to the imaginary quiet that had prevailed between the sides since Israel started to bomb Hamas targets. A checkpoint manned by members of Force 17 (the Presidential Guard, identified with Fatah) was checking cars on a street in Gaza City. Passengers in one of the cars, Hamas activists, declined to be checked and opened fire. The incident was the signal for dozens of militants from both organizations to launch the local "real estate competition": which side would seize control of more roofs on Gaza high-rises. The higher the building, the better it is for observation, control and sniping.

That evening, activists of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades moved quickly to take positions atop the buildings close to the Saraya, the main headquarters of the security forces of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah believed Hamas would try to gain control of the Saraya, or at least over the structures surrounding it, as soon as the fighting began, and therefore preempted its adversaries. Hamas men positioned themselves on the roofs of the high-rise buildings surrounding the tall buildings nearby the headquarters.

In the meantime, dozens of armed men set up roadblocks in the streets. However, this time the Egyptian security delegation, along with senior Hamas and Fatah figures, was able to calm things down. A special team, which had been set up in advance and includes leading activists from both camps, went into the streets. The mediators all but implored the gunmen on the buildings, "Please, come down from the roofs." Although the incident did not deteriorate into a lengthy shootout, everyone in Gaza knows that if a cease-fire with Israel is secured, it will take only hours, days at most, before the fighting between Fatah and Hamas resumes. "This time it will be a more violent and longer round," one Gaza commentator says. "None of the problematic issues between the organizations have been resolved. Most of the armed men who belong to the organizations' military branches are youngsters aged 18 to 25. They have no hope for a better future. All they have learned and seen in recent years has to do with firearms, violence and shaheeds [martyrs]. It's unbelievable how quick their fingers are on the trigger. Majanin [crazies]. "They will not hesitate to shoot one another again," the commentator continues. "Fatah loyalists refer to Hamas as the 'blood people,' and Hamas calls the Fatah people 'heretics.' It's far from over. In the meantime, what is helping us avoid internecine fighting is Israel, which is forcing both organizations to back away from mutual attacks, which would be construed as aid to the enemy.

Your army has become a more effective mediator than the Egyptians," the commentator says mockingly. The dilemma Fatah is having difficulty solving concerns Israel's intensified activity against the members of the organization's military wing in the West Bank. This week two of the founders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the West Bank, Khaled Shwish and Jamal Tirawi, were arrested. The IDF also killed two key activists of the organization, who, like the others, were part of the "center stream" identified with Abbas. Tirawi, who is a Palestinian parliament member, is also considered to be a confidant of the Palestinian Authority's national security adviser, Mohammed Dahlan.

These are activists who receive a budget from the PA and assist Fatah and Dahlan in consolidating their hold in the West Bank. In recent years it seemed as though Israel preferred to ignore their past activity (the detainees were involved in serious terrorist attacks in the first three years of the present intifada), in order to aid Abbas and Dahlan. This week the Israeli policy appeared to have changed.

4. Summer camp at home

Fear continues to dominate the lives of the Gaza Strip's residents: fear of being hurt in an Israeli bombing raid or by internecine exchanges of fire. Despite the fighting against Israel, the violent incidents between the clans, as well as criminal clashes, are continuing. Just this week the director general of the Finance Ministry in Gaza was abducted, even though he was being escorted by bodyguards, and the director general of the courts was shot and wounded by unknown assailants. The school year ended this week, and many parents are wondering anxiously what to do with the children during the summer vacation. "I will not send the children to summer camps, even though they are free, because I am concerned for their lives," says F., a Gaza taxi driver. "Anything is liable to happen to them on the way to or at the camp. It's better for them to stay home." The economic situation continues to worsen: More and more residents are dependent on support from international or Islamic aid groups.

One person who has recently begun to benefit from the increased inflax of money from abroad, and who has used it to recruit more supporters and buy more arms, is Mumtaz Durmush, the leader of his rogue clan. Durmush appears to be receiving economic aid from elements identified with the ideals of Al-Qaida, and he has therefore recently begun "to speak Al-Qaidish." He constantly spouts extreme slogans, which recall those of the fundamentalists in Iraq. "You have cause for concern," the Gaza commentator says.

"The Durmush family always allied with the rising power in Gaza. First they collaborated with Israel, then with Fatah. At the start of the present intifada they crossed the lines to Hamas. Now they are operating independently, but with the aid of radical Islamic groups from abroad, which only Allah knows how to deal with."

[bth: an attack last week in Turkey supposedly by Kurds of a train traveling from Iran to Syria caused containers to break open which contained weaponry. I can't see how Syria benefits from an open war with Israel as this article suggests. Further, the use of IEDs and security cameras as vastly increased the defensive capabilities the Israelis would have to overcome in any land advance. Curious how the worm has turned on that front.]
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Iraqi Bombers Thwart Efforts to Shield G.I.’s

Iraqi Bombers Thwart Efforts to Shield G.I.’s - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, June 1 — American commanders are expressing frustration at the increasing death toll in Iraq caused by makeshift explosives, which have killed 80 percent of the Americans who died in combat over the last three months, despite the billions of dollars being spent to fight the threat."

The proportion of American deaths caused by explosives has sharply increased, even as the Pentagon has made a major effort to defend the troops with armored vehicles, to detect or disarm the weapons, and to attack the bomb-making cells and those who finance them.

The bombs are known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, and the Pentagon has formed a “Joint I.E.D. Defeat Organization” to combat the users. But in an interview on Friday, the director of that group said he recognized that the threat could not truly be defeated.

“It can be mitigated, minimized, made into a nuisance,” said the director, Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, a retired Army officer who took over the project in December 2005. “This is a very tough problem.”

The total of American deaths in April and May was the highest of any two-month period since the war began, and the 80 percent ratio caused by makeshift explosives is higher than it has ever been, up from 50 percent in January.

The increase coincided with the more aggressive operations being mounted by American troops in Iraq as part of the stepped-up campaign that President Bush ordered in January.

Pentagon statistics released Friday showed that May was the third deadliest month of the war in Iraq. The official combat toll stood at 117 late Friday, but some deaths from the final days of the month will not be included until next of kin are notified, officials said.

From the 50 percent rate for combat deaths in January, which represented a dip in the long-term trend, the share caused by explosives climbed to 59 percent in February and an average of about 80 percent for March, April and May.

Pentagon officials said they did not compute such monthly statistics before this year, but estimated that improvised explosive devices were responsible for about 70 percent of the overall combat deaths since the devices first appeared on the battlefield of Iraq in 2003.

The military plans to spend more than $4 billion to combat explosives this year, after spending about $5 billion over the three previous years. The spending has led to the deployment of better-armored vehicles to protect soldiers and new technology to detect and defuse the bombs, but commanders and Pentagon officials say their efforts have produced no more than temporary gains.

“I do believe that we are instinctively prone to look for technological solutions,” said one senior Pentagon official. “That’s the way we are wired, and that’s the American tradition.

“But bigger armor, more high-tech detectors and jammers will only take you so far. We never will solve the problem until we can get better intelligence and can break up these I.E.D. cells. And that will require changing the attitudes of the local population toward these explosions and those responsible for them. The Iraqis will have to help us root out the people involved.”

Across Iraq and Afghanistan, explosives are in ample supply. Improvised bombs can be detonated at a distance by a variety of off-the-shelf systems, some as simple as a wire attached to a doorbell and some controlled by radio or cell phone.

The United States has accused Iran of assisting Shiite insurgents in Iraq with more advanced designs that are able to penetrate even some armored vehicles.

And there is a ready supply of unemployed or angry men willing to plant the devices.

“The problem will not subside even when there is a stable situation of some kind reached in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” General Meigs said. “This is going to be around. This is too easy for an insurgent.”
The anti-I.E.D. organization devoted 78 percent of its budget in the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, to defeating the explosives, with 13 percent of the money going to attack bombing networks and 9 percent to training the force.

In an acknowledgment that the priority should be “developing the kind of intelligence that is needed to go after these folks,” General Meigs said, the share of money in the next fiscal year devoted to attacking the network would rise to 31 percent, while 62 percent of the budget would be reserved for detecting and defusing the bombs.

A far greater number of the bombs are found and cleared today, or prove to be duds, than are effective in attacks. For security reasons, the organization does not release the total number of bomb attacks in Iraq, but General Meigs said bombers had to plant six times as many of the devices for each casualty than when the improvised explosives first appeared.

“But that is not a satisfactory solution in our view, nor will it be in the view of soldiers and marines, nor will it be in the view of the families that support them,” he said. “You are not going to avoid casualties. It is our job to help commanders in the field to minimize them to the absolutely greatest extent possible.”

Cracking into the bomb-making cells is difficult, and not only because they are far smaller and far more decentralized than traditional military targets of American intelligence.

“The societal pattern in Oruzgan Province in Afghanistan is very different than in Diyala Province in Iraq,” General Meigs said. “So is the social structure. The motivations and ideology are different.”
In Iraq, those assessing the threat divide their adversaries into three basic camps.

Those associated with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia strive for the spectacular bombing, of a mosque, government building or marketplace, in order to generate hostility and headlines.

Those placed by Shiite forces are increasingly sophisticated, using technology the United States says is from Iran and can puncture armored vehicles. The Sunni-based insurgents plants bombs of a more homemade variety, but still deadly.

[bth: the six fold increase in devices to casualties is directly related to better armor and jammers. The number of attacks is, I believe around 5,000 probably representing a doubling year over year. The detected to undetected ratio of IEDs seems to remain at the 40-50% level. It is surprising that we haven't seen more EFP attacks, which I think are about 150 per month, up from 50 a year ago so far as I can tell. These EFP attacks are extremely effective though and I fear a modest increase in their number will have a major increase in US casualties. ... With regard to the regular IEDs, this is the price we are paying for leaving 800 or so ammunition depots unguarded for years. Nuts, pure insanity to have left them unprotected. The January IED figure is down as a percentage due to helicopter crashes]
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Top War Tech #5: Talon Robots

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "Improvised Explosive Devices are the biggest killers of U.S. troops in Iraq ... and one of the biggest killer of IEDs is Foster-Miller's Talon robot. "

"It's an excellent robot, and I would rate it as being the best one in theater," ordnance disposal Airman Robert Wester told an Air Force reporter. But how does the Talon compare to other robots -- say, the bestselling iRobot?

"The Baghdad bomb squad used their iRobots to decorate their shop," Noah reported after an embed with an Army ordnance-disposal unit a couple years back. "Not far away, at the U.S. military's central robot depot for Iraq, the iRobots sat on shelves, serenely gathering dust, while Foster-Miller's Talon robots would come back, scarred and in pieces, after being chewed up by a bomb."

The Navy seems to agree. According to the Boston Globe, the service has just doubled its contract for Talons:

Foster-Miller, an engineering, manufacturing, and technology development firm, said the contract administered by the Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division has been increased from $63.9 million to $150 million to accommodate the purchase of additional robots and replacement parts. The company noted that war zone "Robot Hospitals" are repairing more than 400 bomb-damaged robots a week to put them back into service.

[bth: we've been hearing this for about a year - that the Talon has swept the field of PakBots.]

Friday, June 01, 2007

War in Iraq cannot be won: former British army chief

FOCUS Information Agency: "LONDON. There is 'no way' the war in Iraq can be won by the United States and its allies, a former British Army commander said Friday as he called for the troops to be withdrawn. "

General Sir Michael Rose, who commanded the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia-Hercegovina from 1994 to 1995, said coalition forces in Iraq were facing an impossible situation. "There is no way we are going to win the war and (we should) withdraw and accept defeat because we are going to lose on a more important level if we don't," he said.

Though the coalition could not simply "cut and run," Rose said announcing a withdrawal date would help to dampen down the violence between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions. "Give them a date and it is amazing how people and political parties will stop fighting each other and start working towards a peaceful transfer of power," he said.

Rose was speaking at the annual Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts in Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh border with England. The retired general who has written a book on the American War of Independence, made comparisons with the 1775-1783 conflict between Britain and the Thirteen Colonies.

He said: "How was it a small and extremely determined body of insurgents, thieves and deserters could inflict such a strategic and potentially disastrous defeat on the most powerful nation in the world?

"The answer will be familiar to anybody who is looking at what is happening in Iraq today. "Those who don't read history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past."

He said the allies in Iraq should have deployed more troops and not used a conventional war strategy.

"You don't win wars by regime change but by changing attitudes," he said.

He said that Iraq should have been low on the priority list compared to Afghanistan, conflicts in Africa and the battle against international terrorists.

VFW sides with veteran facing discipline for wearing uniform at protest

VFW sides with veteran facing discipline for wearing uniform at protest - Boston.com: "WASHINGTON --The nation's largest combat veterans group on Friday urged the military to 'exercise a little common sense' and call off its investigation of a group of Iraq war veterans who wore their uniforms during anti-war protests."

Trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic right we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about," said Gary Kurpius, national commander of the 2.4 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"Someone in the Marine Corps needs to exercise a little common sense and put an end to this matter before it turns into a circus," Kurpius said.

A military panel in Kansas City, Mo., is holding a hearing on Monday to decide whether Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh's discharge status should be changed from honorable to "other than honorable" after he was photographed wearing fatigues -- with military insignia removed -- during a mock patrol with other veterans at a protest rally in April.

The Marine Corps is investigating whether Kokesh might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization. Kokesh was honorably discharged following a combat tour in Iraq, but he remains part of the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of former active duty service members in unpaid, non-drill status.

Kokesh also was cited for making a disrespectful comment to a military officer investigating the incident. His attorney, Michael Lebowitz, has called the case an effort to stifle critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Kurpius said even an implied threat to lower the discharge rating could threaten educational and other benefits Kokesh is eligible to receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The action might also prevent Kokesh from future employment opportunities that require a security clearance, Kurpius said.

"We all know that people give up some individual rights when they join the military," Kurpius said. "But these Marines went to war, did their duty, and were honorably discharged from the active roles. I may disagree with their message, but I will always defend their right to say it."

[bth: "someone in the Marine Corp needs to exercise a little common sense.... ", Spot on and well said.]

Differences in Guard gear is raising concerns

The Cincinnati Post - Differences in Guard gear is raising concerns: "DAYTON - National Guardsmen in Ohio and other states are not being trained with the same rifles."

They're also not being trained on the same Humvees, the same night-vision goggles and other equipment they will use in Iraq and Afghanistan until just before they are deployed.

That is raising concerns about the soldiers' confidence to deal with the dangers.

Mark Wayda, spokesman for the Ohio Guard, said Thursday that while in Ohio the soldiers must train with M-16 rifles instead of the lighter, shorter-barreled M-4s they would use in Iraq. M-4s are often used in urban settings because they make it easier for soldiers to get into and out of vehicles quickly.

"It's about soldiers feeling as confident as they can when they go on these very dangerous missions," Wayda said.

He said the soldiers are also forced to train with less powerful night-vision goggles and machine guns with different optics, which are crucial in learning how to pick out targets and shoot the weapons.

In addition, the Ohio Guard does not have armored Humvees like the ones used in Iraq. So the soldiers must train in Humvees with different centers of gravity and different braking and handling characteristics, he said.

"The biggest problem is you learn a set of skills that are not exactly transferrable," he said.

The Ohio Guard also has a shortage of ceramic plates that fit into body armor, Wayda said. That requires soldiers to share them during training, which lengthens training time. The plates are important because it changes the way soldiers fire their weapons, he said.

The Oklahoma Guard has a shortage of body armor, M-4s and night-vision goggles, and no up-armored Humvees, according to spokesman Lt. Col. John Altebaumer. He said regular Humvees have canvas doors or none at all, while the others have heavy metal doors.

"You have all this equipment on you, and you have to figure out how to get out of the door quickly," he said.

"But I have not heard it voiced as a concern by any commanders," said Maj. Kenneth Nava, Guard spokesman.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Carl Ey said all Guardsmen have the proper, mission-appropriate equipment when they are deployed and they are trained on up-armor Humvees before going into combat areas. He said any commanders who feel their units don't have the right equipment or training are required to inform their superiors before deployment.

"The Army doesn't take shortcuts on soldier protection and safety," Ey said.

Before they are deployed, the Guardsmen train on the new equipment at pre-mobilizations stations in the United States. It is there, Wayda and Altebaumer say, that the soldiers must learn how to shoot the new weapons and master the new equipment.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland twice has asked President Bush for his assurances that Guard troops are receiving adequate training and equipment.

[bth: so much for fighting the way you train.... this problem has been going on for 5 years! Its inexcusable that this continue.]

ABC News: Troop Drawdown by February 2008? Two Plans Set Forth

ABC News: Troop Drawdown by February 2008? Two Plans Set Forth: "U.S. officials told ABC News that the troop levels in Iraq cannot be maintained at the present level, either politically or practically, with the military stretched so thin. "

But that does not imply an immediate drawdown. Officials told ABC's Martha Raddatz that the senior commanders in Iraq -- Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. David Petraeus -- want the surge to continue until at least December and expect to report enough progress by September to justify the extension.

The drawdown would begin in February 2008, although each of the two generals supports a slightly different plan.

Plan one, which officials say Odierno is pushing, calls for a reduction in troops from roughly 150,000 today to 100,000 by December 2008.

Petraeus champions a slightly different approach that would cut the troops down to roughly 130,000 by the end of 2008, with further reductions the following year.

Presence in Iraq Beyond 2009

There is also discussion of how long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates envisions "some presence" on the part of the United States that "provides reassurance to our friends and to governments in the region, including those that might be our adversaries, that we're going to be there for a long time," Gates said.

A senior official said one long-term plan would have 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq for five to 10 years beyond 2009.

During that period, the bulk of the troops would be deployed to bases at strategic points throughout Iraq to respond to crisis in those areas. Camp Victory would continue to operate as the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad.

Iraq's president tells ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" this Sunday that Iraqi forces can take over, but not any time soon.

When asked when the Iraqi army will be ready to defend its country, Jalal Talabani said, "I think the end of the next year."

But officials have serious doubts about that statement. And as far as the plans for the troops go, they could all change over the coming months.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

[bth: I don't think they know and are simply floating trial balloons. Also they can't sustain current troop levels beyond this extended rotation - there simply aren't enough troops. That means its coming down in 2008. Further the level has always come down just before US elections]
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May's U.S. Iraq death toll: 122

TheStar.com - News - May's U.S. Iraq death toll: 122: "BAGHDAD – The U.S. military reported three more deaths in Iraq today, taking the death toll to 122 for May, already the worst month for U.S. forces there in more than two years."

May is the third-worst month overall in the campaign for U.S. soldiers, behind November 2004, when 137 soldiers died, and April 2004, when 135 were killed.

A total of 3,473 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the start of the invasion in March 2003. ...

Gates, U.S. General Back Long Iraq Stay

Gates, U.S. General Back Long Iraq Stay - washingtonpost.com: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a senior U.S. commander said yesterday that they favor a protracted U.S. troop presence in Iraq along the lines of the military stabilization force in South Korea."

Gates told reporters in Hawaii that he is thinking of "a mutual agreement" with Iraq in which "some force of Americans . . . is present for a protracted period of time, but in ways that are protective of the sovereignty of the host government." Gates said such a long-term U.S. presence would assure allies in the Middle East that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq as it did from Vietnam, "lock, stock and barrel."...

[bth: these guys don't seem to recognize that they've lost the trust of the American people.]

Lebanese Army Masses Around Camp

Lebanese Army Masses Around Camp - washingtonpost.com: "TRIPOLI, Lebanon -- Under the cover of artillery barrages, dozens of Lebanese army tanks and armored carriers moved toward a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon Friday in pursuit of Islamic militants holed up inside."

The artillery bombardment sent white clouds rising above the Nahr el-Bared camp where Fatah Islam militants have been hanging on in a 13-day siege by the Lebanese army. The shelling also ignited fires in the camp that spewed black smoke. The militants have barricaded themselves in residential neighborhoods of narrow, winding streets and apartment buildings.

About 50 armored carriers, battle tanks and military vehicles from elite units massed at the northern edge of the camp and drove toward the forward-most positions, according to AP Television News crew at the scene.

There was no confirmation that the army units were making a final push to take over the camp, or were just advancing to grab territory and isolate the militants in pockets. But a significant decrease in shelling, accompanied by a rise in machine gun fire from armored carriers and exchanges of automatic rifle fire, suggested the troops were already engaging the militants.

The bombardment intensified several hours later. Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. said troops were attempting to seize the main offices of Fatah Islam in the camp's northeastern area. But Al-Arabiya television said troops seized militant sniper positions....

[bth: given the amount of equipment that has been flown in I cannot help but think this is going to be a very significant engagement. It may be a precursor to a new phase in the the international spread of sunni terrorism.]

Military Awards Armored Vehicle Contract

Military Awards Armored Vehicle Contract - News Wires - CNBC.com: "WASHINGTON - The U.S. Marine Corps Thursday awarded a $623.1 million contract to a Navistar International Corp. subsidiary to build 1,200 armored vehicles for American soldiers in Iraq."

The pact, awarded to Warrenville, Ill.-based International Military and Government LLC, is the largest order to date for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles used to reduce the number of U.S. soldiers killed or wounded by roadside bombs.

The MRAPs, designed with a V-shaped hull to repel improvised explosive devices, will replace armored Humvees made by privately held AM General Corp.

The military selected nine companies earlier this year, including the Navistar unit, to each build four test MRAPs. Delivery of the MRAPs for this contract are expected by February 2008.

A Marine Corps-led joint military team wants to get funding approved to deliver nearly 18,000 MRAPs, expected to cost about $20 billion, as quickly as possible to soldiers in combat.

The team has up to $8.4 billion to build roughly 7,700 MRAPs this year. The Navistar contract is the second one awarded to date.

In April, Ladson, S.C.-based Force Protection Industries Inc. won a $490 million contract for 1,000 MRAP vehicles. The company is teaming up with Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics Corp. under a joint venture called "Force Dynamics" to increase production capacity.

Other companies vying for the military's armored-vehicle business include the U.S. subsidiary of British defense contractor BAE Systems PLC, Oshkosh, Wis.-Oshkosh Truck Corp. and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Armor Holdings Inc.

Shares of Navistar jumped $2.50, or 4 percent, to $64.89 in over-the-counter trading Thursday.

National Guard Drills WMD Units

NTI: Global Security Newswire: "During a training event simulating the release of chemical or biological weapons in Massachusetts earlier this month, National Guard teams deployed robots to assess the “hot zone” near the epicenter of the simulated attack (see GSN, May 23)."

The exercise, involving National Guard Civil Support Teams from across New England, took place between May 4 and 11 in Truro, Mass., according to a Massachusetts National Guard press release.

The guard units, responding to a simulated event in a suburban area, worked in concert with each other and civilian first responders. In each state, the National Guard maintains a 22-member, full-time team which helps civilian agencies plan for and react to WMD-type events.

One survey team, comprised of members from both the Massachusetts Civil Support Team and Massachusetts State Police drove into affected areas to assess simulated victims and also used remote robots.

The robots can perform the same reconnaissance tasks as human surveyors “only slower and clumsier, but also at zero risk,” said Stephen Sicard, a state trooper involved in the exercise, according to the release.

During the multiday exercise guard units spelled each other, offering relief in the long-duration simulation. “We train so that, when we respond to a live situation, the transition goes smoothly and there is minimal disruption to the incident commander’s objectives and timelines,” said Lt. Col. Michael Young, commander of the a Civil Support Team from Vermont (National Guard release, May 25.)

New York Seeks Added WMD-Response Team

NTI: Global Security Newswire: "U.S. lawmakers from New York are seeking a second National Guard team trained to respond to WMD emergencies, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, April 9)."

The U.S. Congress has previously approved the creation of 55 Civil Support Teams to be fielded by the Guard.

Original plans called for one team per state, plus additional units for District of Columbia and U.S. territories, but New York merits another team, the lawmakers said.

“Because New York City is such a target for would-be terrorists, it is vital to have an additional Civil Support Team located downstate,” in addition to the first team based in Albany, said Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.).

Chances for receiving the team were good, King said (Associated Press/Newsday, May 22).

Coffin Delayed Clinton Fundraiser

Coffin Delayed Clinton Fundraiser - News Story - KCRA Sacramento: "SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A fundraising event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was delayed three hours while the Sacramento County bomb squad investigated a coffin brought to the area by anti-war protestors."

Anti-war activists Virginia and Stephen Pearcy, who made headlines in February 2005 for hanging an effigy of a soldier on their Land Park area home, brought a flag draped coffin as a protest against the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday, the Secret Service began to conduct a sweep of the area and asked to look inside the coffin. Pearcy refused, stating that they had no probable cause to do so. This prompted the Secret Service to call in local law enforcement and bomb squad....

[bth: this type of disruption is now going to become the norm as the 'left' in the country feels that the Democratic Party has sold them out and the democratic process no longer protects their rights.]

Turkey Planning to Cross Into Iraq After Kurdish Guerrillas - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Turkey Planning to Cross Into Iraq After Kurdish Guerrillas - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's top general said Thursday his army — which has been massing troops on the border with Iraq — was prepared to attack separatist Kurdish guerrillas in a cross-border offensive."...

Baghdad Residents Call for U.S. Help to Battle Al Qaeda - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Baghdad Residents Call for U.S. Help to Battle Al Qaeda - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "BAGHDAD — U.S. troops battled Al Qaeda in west Baghdad after Sunni Arab residents challenged the militants and called for American help to end furious gunfire that kept students from final exams and forced people in the neighborhood to huddle indoors."...

Congress goes on vacation while more 'honored dead' come home

McClatchy Washington Bureau 05/31/2007 Congress goes on vacation while more 'honored dead' come home: "This week it’s Congress’ turn in the bulls-eye _ all of the elected worms on both sides of the aisles. Especially the new Democratic majority, which arrived last January with the mistaken idea that their long ordeal of wandering, Moses-like, in the desert was at an end. "

The late Will Rogers was fond of remarking that the Republic was never in greater danger than when the United States Senate was in session. Thankfully, the senators and their colleagues in the House of Representatives are on vacation this week.

It is to be fondly hoped that those who aren't out inspecting the food and wine in Paris and the carpets in various exotic bazaars in earnest pursuit of "facts" are now back home getting an earful from the unfortunate citizens they were elected to represent.

The mandate that emerged from the mid-term elections last November was not one for Democratic control. It was a thundering vote in favor of reform, or rebellion, if you will. The voters understood that this august body the founding fathers envisioned as one-third of a system of checks and balances was utterly broken, utterly corrupt.

And what's come of it? What have they wrought? Nothing much.

They've reformed nothing, fixed nothing.

The dust from all those victory laps by the grandmotherly Nancy Pelosi of California and the cadaverous Harry Reid of Nevada is still in the air, and to date they and their majority have done nothing of what was demanded of them.

They've been flim-flammed by Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy into passing a bill that funds the continuation of a war that 70 percent of Americans no longer support.

For all their posturing and demands for withdrawal timelines and benchmarks for an Iraqi government that's only marginally less functional than our own, in the end they caved and gave George W. Bush exactly what he wanted - another $100 billion or so to carry on the killing and dying and suffering.

On Memorial Day, when politicians of all stripes turned up at military cemeteries to bask in the glory reflected off the white marble tombstones of men and women who died for their mistakes, 10 more American soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq.

One could almost hear the whispering voices of the honored dead, passing the word: Move over. Make some more room.

There's one stark image that lingers in my mind from Memorial Day 2007. It's that photograph of the young fiancee of a slain Army Ranger sergeant stretched facedown and full length on the cold earth of his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. She was embracing with love all that she and we have lost.

Did you weep for her, America? Did you weep for him? Did you feel or even notice the pain and suffering that radiated from that image?

Did it speak to your heart of the events - the grotesque mistakes of a president and his underlings and the utter failures of a Congress and both political parties - that brought the sergeant and his fiancee to that place?

As I write, there's still time, a few hours left of May, 2007, for this month to move, temporarily at least, into the record book as the cruelest month for Americans in Iraq in four-plus years. June and July and August don't promise much relief.

While the president turns his back on reality, his failed war and his failed presidency, and as Congress postures and preens, those who daily risk life and limb in Iraq soldier on. They're the best of us, and the best of their generation, and the politicians blather and dither and pontificate while their blood is shed.

How dare they? How dare they go on vacation in the middle of a misbegotten war? Death in Iraq takes no vacation. The patrols go out 24/7. The medical evacuation helicopters deliver their ghastly cargoes of dead, dying and maimed to field hospitals. The suicide bombers cut down innocent Iraqis as they shop or walk to school. The death squads come in broad daylight and drag away more innocents to the slaughter for their different belief in a same God.

And what do we do? We go on with our lives as if none of this was happening. We sacrifice nothing more than a few of the precious rights that a million Americans bought with their lives in other wars.

We trade away our rights to the privacy of our communications and our personal business. We blink, and under the guise of something the politicians had the gall to call the Patriot Act, we hand over to one deeply flawed man the sole power to declare us outside the protection of both law and the Constitution.

He can waive our right of habeas corpus and our right to face our accusers in a court of law.

On a day when a young woman embraced a cold grave with pure love, our elected representatives vacationed while the senseless and unnecessary war that took her fiance raged on. Most Americans didn’t even notice what they'd lost as they shopped and partied and, yes, fiddled while a great dream born 231 years ago in the minds and of the blood of true patriots was being stolen by men and women unfit and unwilling to protect the precious gift our forebears gave us.

Marines Battle Bureaucrats and Plead for High-Tech Gear

Marines Battle Bureaucrats and Plead for High-Tech Gear: "Maj. John Rumbaugh's job was hard enough without all the mortar attacks"An Army surgeon attached to a Marine force in Iraq's lawless Al Anbar province, the Maryland resident saw a constant stream of casualties from roadside bombings, gunfights and checkpoint shootings. Meanwhile insurgents, exploiting gaps in patrols in the region, would periodically rush the base, fire a handful of mortars at the Marine hospital, then disappear.

Almost every day for a year the insurgents repeated the deadly trick with seeming impunity. With just 20,000 Marines and a few hundred soldiers to cover thousands of square miles, there simply weren't enough troops to secure the base. Rumbaugh understood that. What he didn't understand was why the Marines' weapons-buying bureaucracy had refused repeated, urgent requests for aerial drones that could watch over the base instead.

For years the U.S. Army had used hundreds of such drones to monitor expanses of Iraq where the ground troops were thinnest. The Marines had their own drone -- the $100,000 Scan Eagle co-produced by Boeing and Insitu -- but in much smaller numbers. Since 2006, Marine commanders in Iraq had filed three formal requests asking for between 60 and 240 additional Scan Eagles. But the complex of Quantico, Virginia, offices responsible for filling such requests -- the Combat Development Command, the Marine Corp Systems Command and the Warfighting Laboratory -- had ignored or rejected all the pleas.

As a result, none of the 10-foot-wingspan Scan Eagles were available to patrol around Rumbaugh's hospital. When 12 of Rumbaugh's medical staff were seriously injured in a spate of attacks in 2006, the major had had enough. In January 2007, through a family member, he appealed to his representatives back home, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland).

Van Hollen passed the request (.pdf) on to the Army; Mikulski went a step further, contacting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directly. "I ask that you look into this situation," the senator wrote (.pdf), "and take whatever steps you deem appropriate to ensure the safety of these forces."

The Scan Eagle episode is just the latest in a long history of conflict between the Marine Corps' fighting troops and the bureaucrats in Quantico, where critics say an entrenched resistance to more efficient technology purchasing is endangering fighters' lives. While an adaptive enemy takes advantage of commercial equipment to build lethal roadside bombs and survivable communications networks, Quantico eschews cheap off-the-shelf products in favor of Cold War-era processes for designing expensive new weapons over the course of years.

An official report, prepared in February by a Marine science adviser deployed to Iraq, claims that Quantico fulfilled fewer than 10 percent of the 130 weapons requests filed by troops in western Iraq. Technology packs the unfilled shopping list: wireless and satellite networking gear, a video-surveillance system, several systems for neutralizing improvised explosive devices, an acoustic-triangularization technology to pinpoint snipers , solar cells.

Requests were "cancelled, delayed, or (the) solutions were not what (we) asked for," the report claims. At fault is a "risk averse … civilian middle management that lacks technical and operational currency" -- and that is guilty of "process worship (that) cripples (the) operating forces." The adviser's report counts the shortage of Scan Eagles as one of the four most serious equipment deficiencies for Marines in Iraq.

Critics charge that Quantico's old-fashioned approach to weapons buying is to blame. "To some degree, a culture of indifference existed where it was acceptable to delay or deny for months our servicemen and -women's urgent needs," says Nick Schwellenbach, a defense expert with the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks pork and corruption in military contracts.
"This plays out subtly, though. It's rare to see a simple, point-blank refusal. Initiatives die somewhere in the system because they are not prioritized, and their constituency lies outside of the process and has little visibility into it."

Not all the equipment being withheld from troops is high-tech. Beginning in 2005, Marine commanders in Al Anbar began begging for thousands of heavily armored trucks, in production at several U.S. firms, to replace Humvees that were being demolished in roadside bombings. Quantico sat on the requests for nearly two years, and during that period around a thousand Americans -- including an estimated 200 Marines -- died in attacks on Humvees.

The Marine Corps did purchase approximately 60 of the 15-ton blast-proof trucks on an experimental basis for around $1 million apiece. Those trucks were hit 300 times without a single fatality.

In September 2006, mounting casualties and growing political pressure forced the bureaucracy to order 1,200 of the tougher trucks. In March this year Gates increased the order to 7,700 for the Army and Marines, and promised another 10,000 at a total cost of around $20 billion.

In another unfilled request, Iraqi civilians may be casualties of Quantico's sluggishness.

For years, police forces have used green laser "dazzlers" to temporarily blind aggressive drivers, forcing them to pull over. But in Iraq, Marines manning checkpoints usually have only painted signs, hand signals and their rifles to ward off approaching cars, any one of which might conceal a bomb in the trunk. If a driver misses the signs or misinterprets the hand signals and continues to approach a checkpoint, a deadly exchange often ensues.

In February 2003, Lt. Gen. Martin Berndt, commander of Marine forces in Europe, anticipated the need for dazzlers and called them one of several "urgently needed capabilities" in a letter addressed to the commandant of the Marine Corps and copied to Development Command , which nonetheless failed to act. In June 2005, the II Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq repeated the request, asking for 400 units of a $7,000 high-powered dazzler sold by Connecticut's LE Systems. The request form cited "a string of lethal encounters and casualties" at checkpoints.

The request was repeated by the next rotation of Marines in Iraq in 2006 -- this time the troops said 50 innocent Iraqis had died in unnecessary checkpoint shootings during a period of several months. When Quantico again ignored the request, the Marines in Iraq used their own small pot of money to buy 28 LE Systems dazzlers and have them shipped directly to Iraq in late 2006, according to officials involved in the purchase.

When officials in Quantico found out, they ordered the dazzlers impounded, on the grounds that they had proven unsafe in tests. "The military has a long testing process; we're not going to field anything that's not safe and reliable and durable," says Maj. Gregory Roper of the Marine Corp Systems Command, defending the decision. "There are some off-the-shelf items out there that will meet Marines' needs very quickly, and when we have an opportunity to go that route, we try to go that route."

Some 18 months after the troops' initial request, Quantico finally shipped the Marines around two dozen weaker, but more expensive, lasers built by a different company.

LE Systems founder Titus Casazza is convinced that the holdup was never about the safety of its dazzlers. "We had established our own energy-density, eye-safe distance a long time ago," Casazza says. So what was it about? "I don't know. Is it that the longer things take, the more complicated you make it and the longer the approval process takes, the longer you keep your job? Nobody wants to make a decision without C.Y.A up one side and the other."

With the Scan Eagle delays, more nuanced forces are at work. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory -- the research arm of the Marines' weapon-procurement bureaucracy -- recently unveiled a project to develop its own "Tier II" drone to perform the same mission as the Scan Eagle. The project is likely to take years to complete, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Buying more Scan Eagles would undermine support for the R&D project in Congress and in senior Marine Corps ranks, according to the Marine Corp science adviser who authored the damning February report. "In the end the real issue is that (Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory) desire to pursue their pet, even though it won't mature for years and there is evidence that it will be inferior in capability to the upgraded Scan Eagle," the science adviser told Wired News, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and the Combat Development Command both declined interview requests for this story, referring inquiries to Marine headquarters. A representative there also declined to comment on the unfilled Scan Eagles requests. (Read the Army's reply [.pdf] to the congressional queries.)

There is definitely a tendency in many quarters of the defense establishment to prefer to establish new programs or protect existing ones, rather than use off-the-shelf technology available on the commercial market," says Schwellenbach from the Project on Government Oversight. "It's about turf, ego and resources. If your bread and butter is the research and development of new systems, then why would you want to undermine your own project that you may have spent years on?"

Better accountability is one solution to the problem. Schwellenbach proposes that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress get more involved in overseeing requests like the Marines' pleas for Scan Eagles.

The Army also provides an example of a system that works. Shortly after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the Army formed an ad hoc committee of 15 weapons-purchasing experts -- the so-called Rapid Equipping Force -- and tasked them with filling urgent equipment needs identified by soldiers in the field. By 2005, the committee had become a permanent organization of 150 people, and that year alone rushed more than 20,000 items to Iraq and Afghanistan including robots, surveillance systems and accessories for firearms.

If the blast-proof trucks experience is any indicator, and if surgeon Rumbaugh's letters to Congress have their desired effect, Secretary of Defense Gates might very well get involved in the battle over drones.
And then, once again, the Marines' weapons bureaucracy might find itself ordered to provide the requested weapons. Ordered, in other words, to do its job.

Baghdad Embassy Plans Turn Up Online

My Way News - Baghdad Embassy Plans Turn Up Online: "WASHINGTON (AP) - Detailed plans for the new U.S. Embassy under construction in Baghdad appeared online Thursday in a breach of the tight security surrounding the sensitive project"...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CBS: Iraqi PM doesn't trust his military, says coup possible

The Raw Story CBS: Iraqi PM doesn't trust his military, says coup possible: "Iraqi PM al-Maliki told Lara Logan of CBS Evening News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that he has a real fear of a coup by the Iraqi army.

Al-Maliki said that some of the officer corps have been creating problems and even violating the security of military operations. He stated, 'I'm not afraid, but I have to watch the army, because those still loyal to the previous regime may start planning coups. Those people don't believe in democracy, and for that reason we are monitoring the status of the army very closely.'

Al-Maliki also insisted that his government is not ordered around by the Americans, saying, 'The Americans don't order us to do this or not to do that. On the contrary, we're the ones who tell them to do this and don't do that.'

The following video clip is from CBS Evening News.

[bth: the military coup IS the plan B. We used it in the Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, S. Korea, Vietnam, most of central and Latin America.]

MRAPs can't stop newest weapon

USATODAY.com: "WASHINGTON — New military vehicles that are supposed to better protect troops from roadside explosions in Iraq aren't strong enough to withstand the latest type of bombs used by insurgents, according to Pentagon documents and military officials."

As a result, the vehicles need more armor added to them, according to a January Marine Corps document provided to USA TODAY. The Pentagon faced the same problem with its Humvees at the beginning of the war.

The military plans to spend as much as $25 billion for up to 22,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles by 2009. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that buying the new vehicles should be the Pentagon's top procurement priority.

But the armor on those vehicles cannot stop the newest bomb to emerge, known as an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). The Pentagon plans to replace virtually all Humvees with MRAPs to provide better protection against roadside bombs, responsible for most casualties in Iraq.

The document, dated Jan. 13, is called an urgent universal need statement. The statements are written by field commanders in all services, who want commercially available solutions to battlefield problems.
Since MRAPs are so much safer against traditional roadside bombs, the document says, Iraqi insurgents' use of EFPs "can be expected to increase significantly."

As a result, the Marine commanders in Iraq who wrote the statement asked for more armor to be added to the new vehicles.

"Ricocheting hull fragments, equipment debris and the penetrating slugs themselves shred vulnerable vehicle occupants who are in their path," said the document, which asks for 3,400 sets of add-on armor.

The Army has tested armor that appears to protect MRAPs from the explosives, said Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, who confirmed the document's authenticity. Brogan leads Marine Corps Systems Command, the lead agency for the MRAP program.

"How rapidly we can engineer that onto these vehicles is yet to be seen because it is significantly heavy," he said.

EFPs are explosives capped by a metal disk. The blast turns the disk into a high-speed slug that can penetrate armor.

The Army's solution, Brogan said, involves armor that can fracture the slug.

Lt. Col. William Wiggins, an Army spokesman, declined to comment specifically on the armor but released a statement that said the Army is developing "effective countermeasures" against the bombs.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., an MRAP supporter, said the Army had confirmed a successful test of new armor to protect against EFPs. The extra armor will increase the cost of the program, he said.

It's doubtful new armor can stop all EFPs, said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity, a Washington-based defense think tank.

"Short of victory, they're going to continue to figure out ways to kill Americans," Pike said of the insurgents. "In any war, it is measure and countermeasure."

Gates recently watched testing of the vehicles and is aware of the concerns about the armor, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The Marines have sent urgent need requests before, such as for improved first-aid kits and new rifle scopes.

[bth: MRAPs also offer a larger side profile for EFPs to hit. EFPs will cut through these vehicles but luckily we are getting hit with something like 150 EFPs per month compared to something like 2500 traditional IED explosions. Plus the cost of vehicles has gone from $75K for an unarmored humvee to $225K+ for a M1114 armored humvee to over a million for MRAP. The cost of IEDs seems to remain at about $150 and children and teenagers are paid $3 per day to build IEDs. Component parts for a EFP are about $30 in addition to the explosives. MRAPs are essential at this point, but to think it will resolve IED problems is nuts. They change; we change; they change; we change... the cost of war just keeps going up]